by Dr. Lisa Ferguson, Director of Research & Conservation

In our sphere, changing plans is a common practice due to weather, tides, behavior of the animals we work with, and new information learned. It’s the nature of the work we do. This year, our powers of adaption were put to a new test. Lucky for us, we are a group passionate about the work we do and the value of it. So, amongst the unknowns, disappointments, and pure strangeness of this spring, we paused to adjust and reconfigure the season, and set our focus to keeping projects running safely and smoothly as best we could. One of the hardest outcomes to contend with was the cancelation of our Coastal Conservation Research Program Internship. Without space to safely accommodate the six selected interns, we instead had to defer their positions until summer 2021 and reinvent our protocols and work areas for a significantly reduced summer staff. But we adapted, worked hard, and are pleased to report on some accomplishments from the summer.

  • Road patrols and mark-recapture surveys for nesting diamondback terrapins kept us busy, with 558 terrapins saved from local roads and 431 eggs recovered for headstarting from the 592 terrapins suffering lethal injuries. We were so grateful to have experienced volunteers cover segments of our road patrol route so we could maintain our daily patrols.
  • We initiated a Terrapin Stewardship program with our neighbors along Stone Harbor Boulevard so we can all become better turtle neighbors. Stewards attended virtual information sessions to learn and share ideas about keeping terrapins along this road safer during the nesting season. We were pleased with the enthusiastic response and the new turtle crossing signs in yards along the road. We see this as just the start to building a stronger community network to protect terrapins.
  • Three years into our telemetry project, we are learning so much about juvenile and adult terrapins in the local marsh. Location and habitat data for our study area are acquired through regular tracking using a handheld device (lots of mud time!) and passive data collection from our node array. Many of the juveniles we tracked this year were headstarted by the wonderful teachers in our Terrapins in the Classroom program and the dedicated staff at Stockton University.

    Birds nesting in the marshes were again subject to weekly monitoring surveys, with modified protocols and increased use of passive monitoring tools. Chick survival was followed to estimate reproductive success, and early records indicate this season was a better year than 2019 at our study sites, though numbers of nesting pairs were down. We also continued to band birds – Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, and Great Egrets – a first for The Wetlands Institute! Be sure to look for and report bands (see pictures).

  • The work of our Shorebird and Beach Stewards at Stone Harbor Point and USFWS Two Mile Beach Unit helped keep beach-nesting birds safe this summer and made more people aware of them and their conservation needs. It was a challenging season but we had a fantastic group of stewards and partners.
  • We launched the reTURN the Favor program May 15, a two-week delay that had volunteers anxious but eager to start. We restricted the program to experienced volunteers and held virtual trainings. Over 100 volunteers signed up and were out nearly every day to rescue crabs on 18 beaches. What they accomplished was inspiring! It was a busy spawning season, and we were so glad to be able to do the good work of the program, with over 100,000 crabs rescued this year.

Thank you to all who supported our work this season with helping hands, patience through the difficult changes, partnership, and financial support. We couldn’t have done this without you!